I first heard about Swan from the Princess Tutu community. I didn't know very much about it, save that it was an older shojo manga about ballet. I finally found the first issue for sale at Wondercon, and I was hooked.
This manga is beautiful. Each page is an artistic delight as characters dance across each page, their emotions and feelings beautifully penned in a 70s style that is very appealing. The main character, Masumi Hijiri, is a very aspiring character. She struggles to succeed in a prestigious ballet school, even though she is from the country and does not have the best technique. However, she has a deep passion for dance that will be familiar to anyone who has ever felt the desire to make their dreams a reality. She has has believable flaws - no Mary Sues here!
I was surprised by how well researched this manga is. It is thick with ballet technique, famous dancers, and classical ballets such as Sleeping Beauty, Little Humpbacked Horse, and La Sylphide. However, even a non-dancer should enjoy it, since it does provide helpful notations on more obscure subjects.
~Where to Buy Swan~
Swan can be difficult to find. I have picked up most of my volumes at conventions and at Kinokuniya book stores. If you local bookstore doesn't carry it, you can always try requesting it. It is currently out of print.
I fell in love with Swan not because it’s about ballet, but because it’s so hardcore about it. The dancers sweat as hard and compete as ruthlessly as any athlete in a sports manga....Swan is the tasty manga equivalent of gritty American films from the 1970s. It is the Taxi Driver or the Apocalypse Now of ballet manga...The art of Swan is freaking amazing. During ballet sequences Ariyoshi illustrates time in gorgeous cinematic sequences, following the dancers’ movements in trails across the page. Drawn in the experimental 1970s, Ariyoshi experiments with panel layout. Masumi’s worries and fears break out of square borders into explosive layouts. Even through the psychedelic sequences, everything stays legible. Reading across a page of Swan is much less confusing than picking your way through the randomly scattered dialog bubbles of modern shojo. ~ Erin Finnegan
Incidentally: The real tragedy here is the fact that CMX still had six volumes to go in serializing Kyoko Ariyoshi’s ballet drama, Swan, quite conceivably the most formally daring children’s comic ever drawn. Working hot on the heels of the revolution in shojo manga in the early 1970s, Ariyoshi’s daring page compositions skillfully blended imagery and structure to evoke mood, motion and emotion like few other cartoonists before or since — I can almost picture sweat flying from her brow as her pen leapt across the board, setting new benchmarks for innovation that cartoonists would spend the next three decades trying (and failing) to match. These days, we in the West lionize Bernard Krigstein and Jim Steranko’s all-too-brief bodies of work for things that artists like Ariyoshi did as a matter of course for thousands of pages at a stretch. Every practicing cartoonist should own at least two volumes of Swan. - From http://www.tcj.com, commenting on the demise of CMX.
Swan is a series so packed with drama, beauty, pain, and art that you'll wonder why today's shoujo stories feel so bare. Full of the blood, sweat, and tears of both success and failure, it's a sports manga dressed in a tutu and draped in glittering, syrupy romance. The theatrics are big, but so is life. Swan is more than just ballet; it's a rich narrative that defines classic shoujo. An unfinished run is a devastating hit to my bookshelves. - Julie Rosato from http://www.mania.com